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Meet Dionne Jackson

Meet Dionne Jackson

Dionne Jackson recently joined DePauw as the university’s first vice president for institutional equity. Jackson comes from the mayor’s office in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she spent the past year as the city’s inaugural chief equity officer. She previously was vice president for diversity and inclusion, chief diversity officer, and a tenured associate professor of education at her undergraduate alma mater, Hendrix College, and holds a doctorate of education, with an emphasis on curriculum and instruction, from Baylor University.

We asked Jackson a few questions about her new role, how she approaches equity, and what keeps her active outside of work.

You're the first to hold your title at DePauw. For those who are just getting to know you, can you share how you and President White envision your work?

My role works to carry out the day-to-day leadership of efforts that fulfill DePauw’s strategic plan goal of becoming a more fully inclusive and equitable institution. As vice president for institutional equity, I work each day to ensure all aspects of the student, employee and alumni experience are fully aligned with our DePauw values of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Diversity refers to variety; inclusion promotes belonging; and equity is about fairness and justice. Equity requires “deliberate actions to remove systemic, group and individual barriers and obstacles that hinder opportunities and disrupt well-being. Equity is achieved through the identification and elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that create and reinforce unfair outcomes.” (Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Benchmarks, 2021)

Therefore, through my work with many wonderful DePauw and Greencastle community members, I look forward to leading efforts to develop our performance by promoting retention of underrepresented student and employee populations; ensure compliance by working with colleagues to meet regulations that protect human rights; build diversity, equity and inclusion competence by partnering to provide trainings; and advocate for social justice by collaborating with colleagues to promote policies and programs that provide opportunities.

You've had experience as a science teacher and a college professor. Does your time leading students in classrooms shape your approach to your work in equity?

My time working with students in classrooms definitely served as the most meaningful part of my passion and purpose as they relate to equity. Working with students is what I missed most and the reason why I returned to higher education. 

I am the product of a K-12 educational experience in the 1980s and ’90s that was shaped by a desegregation lawsuit. Additionally, I was a first-generation college student. My schooling allowed me to experience the full spectrum of what adults did right and wrong in education. When I became a seventh-grade science teacher, I was adamant that, regardless of how my students were classified by our educational system, they would all have a high-quality science experience. Many of my seventh-grade students overcame individual obstacles every day to make it to school. My daily goal was to provide them with an opportunity to learn and grow, not just as science students but as individuals.

As a professor, I began to focus on systems and processes that impede the educational experiences of students. I trained students to teach in K-12 schools and I taught classes focused on inclusion and social justice in education. I always worked to help my students identify the systems and structures that denied opportunities for students and challenged them to consider how they would be a part of the solution. 

Today, I have many students working in K-12 schools, leading nonprofits and working for the government who are carrying out the work of equity each day. That’s why I continue to collaborate and mentor as an equity leader, because I know the impact of others joining me on my equity journey.

When you describe equity as a journey, what do you mean by that?

Great question! I describe it as a journey because I do not like equity to be framed only as a destination. When we think of equity work as a destination, we begin to develop checklists of completion and a frame of mind that, once this is done, we do not need to revisit it again. 

The reality is that equity requires continual care and thought regarding our journey, or processes and policies, to specific destinations, or goals. The reality is, much like when we travel, we can reach a destination and then realize the need to move on to another location and thus a need again to plan and continue our journey. I look forward to us reaching destinations at DePauw, but what I will enjoy the most are the journeys we will take together.

What do you like to do away from work? Are there any hobbies or passions that are an important part of who you are?

My faith and family are most important to me, so most of the time when I am away from work, I am spending quiet time praying, reflecting or volunteering at church or enjoying a meal with my family or simply spending time with them. I enjoy baking, so usually around the holidays I carve out time to cook two of my family’s favorite cakes, sweet potato and white chocolate red velvet cheesecake. I’ve been told that they are delicious. Smile.

Since moving to Greencastle, what I’ve enjoyed most is the peace of sitting on the porch in the evening, walking on campus at night or hiking the DePauw Nature Park trail. My favorite place to be is the beach, but more than anything, I am truly a fan of nature and I’ve enjoyed the opportunities to be outside. Remember, I am from Arkansas, where it is over 100 degrees every day right now…This 80-degree weather is FANTASTIC!

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